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Some initial responses to my earlier post entitled "What are the arguments
*for* XHTML 2.0?" seemed to start from the premise that it is a given that
development of XHTML 2.0 is a good thing. I see no basis for making such an
assumption without careful and thoughtful analysis.
This post introduces some ideas which suggest, to me at least, that further
development of XHTML or calling a halt to such further development is an
issue which merits serious analysis and discussion. This post focusses
primarily on practical rather than purely technical issues.
I will develop two simple premises:
1. Indefinite continued development of not-charged-for Web browsers is an
unsustainable business model
2. All technologies reach a point where they have outgrown their usefulness.
(X)HTML is no exception.
1. The not-charged-for Browser model
To develop any non-trivial piece of software demands developer time and other
resources. Those resources cost money. A business which invests money only to
give away its products will soon become a former business. The
not-charged-for Web browser is, in the general case, not sustainable.
Simon St Laurent supports the continuance of the not-charged-for browser
model. Yet, OReilly.com does not provide its books or other services free of
charge nor would I expect it to. If OReilly.com moved to a not-charged-for
business model I anticipate it would not continue in business for long.
In reality, of course, the not-charged-for Web browser is in many cases being
subsidised by some charged-for activity. In the case of Mozilla/Netscape I
understand that a significant proportion of development is by developers who
draw a salary (or part salary?) from Netscape. So, if that is correct, I as
an AOL subscriber and many millions of others subsidise the development of
Similarly Internet Explorer is not "free". A small, but undefined, proportion
of the cost of a Windows operating system licence provides the income to
justify Web browser development.
I anticipate that we will soon enter a phase when we have what I term "user
agent turmoil", by which I mean that we will have many types of user agent
including "rich clients" competing in similar spaces. Some rich clients which
are charged for, some poor man's browsers which are free, for example.
Rich clients will, if properly implemented, provide added value for corporate
and other paying clients. Since the "richness" of these "rich clients" will
determine much of their success and failure in the marketplace it is
essential that they can be diffentiated from the not-charged-for poor man's
That such rich clients will appear shouldn't be surprising. At one time mere
users had nothing better than dumb terminals on the desktop. Then along came
applications which ordinary folk had access to. When the Web arrived we had
"simple" Web browsers - not-quite-dumb terminals if you like. As user needs
become more sophisticated we will move on to rich clients. I expect this to
happen since such rich clients will meet user needs which are not met by the
Of course the not-charged-for Web clients will attempt to keep up or catch
up. If cross-subsidies continue they may keep up fairly well. But I doubt
very much if they will keep up fully, since the indefinite continuation of
such cross-subsidies is doubtful.
But if, hypothetically, AOL/Netscape realise that they can create a rich
client for which they can charge will they, in a fierce business climate,
continue to subsidise Mozilla? Would an alert shareholder population allow
If, again hypothetically, Opera had similar concerns about shareholder value
... and both AOL/Netscape and Opera leave ... what price continuance of the
HTML [sic] Working Group?
User agent turmoil, which I expect to become highly visible over the next 12
to 24 months, may well result in HTML [sic] Working Group turmoil. Or
Which W3C WG will wish to be seen to develop the poor man's browser?
As my signature says, "XHTML 2.0 - the W3C leading the Web to its full
potential ... to implement yesterday's technology tomorrow". Hardly the
notion that a forward-looking software business with a viable business model
would want to be associated with, in my view.
I expect that many rich clients will wish to distinguish themselves from
yesterday's technology. Exit XHTML?
2. All technologies reach the end of their life-cycle
I am not using DOS version 17.0 nor OS/2 version 7.3. Why? Those once useful
technologies reached a stage in their life cycle when, considered against
other options, they were no longer viable for me. In time they became viable
for nobody. They died.
The same applies to XHTML. The only point of doubt is whether XHTML 1.1,
XHTML 2.0 or, say, XHTML 932.4 is the last version.
What value does XHTML 1.0 and 1.1 add for HTML users? The consensus in a
recent discussion on XHTML-L was that the advantages are surprisingly few.
XHTML 1.0 and 1.1, to be fully implemented, need a new generation of browser
clients. Which companies are going to invest in clients to support these when
better business cases can perhaps be built on rich clients using alternate
The same question also applies to XHTML 2.0. If XHTML 2.0 is to be a
worthwhile investment for W3C to pursue then a good business case needs to be
made for its continued development.
If such a case exists I am not aware of it being made public. In an
anticipated era of user agent turmoil XHTML 2.0 may quietly sink without
trace if it doesn't provide substantive added value for rich clients.
I pause here to allow supporters of development of XHTML 2.0 to put forward
arguments in its favour.
"XHTML 2.0 - the W3C leading the Web to its full potential ... to implement
yesterday's technology tomorrow"